Sunday, January 31, 2016

We Need a SimFarm Remake

Anyone else out there remember playing SimFarm? It was one of Maxis' games from the early-mid 90's, though I didn't get to play it until around the turn of the millennium. Billed as “SimCity's country cousin” it was never as popular as its urban relative, as seen by the way SimCity has had multiple different versions over the years and a successful remake in Cities: Skylines, while SimFarm…hasn't.

And I think that's a shame, because I think there's the seed of a great game in SimFarm just waiting for an updated and modernized remake to bring it out. For those who haven't played it, SimFarm casts you as the owner of a small plot of land, empty but for your cozy little farm house and just waiting for you to develop it into a thriving family farm. Farming happens from a bird's-eye perspective where you oversee your various fields and animals. The weather changes over the course of an in-game year, and the climate of your starting area (you get to pick your location on a map of the lower forty-eight states at the start of the game) affects how well various crops do (apples do well in Washington, sunflowers in Kansas, etc.).

There a number of natural disasters that can happen at random, such as tornadoes, floods, and plagues of locusts, all of which can affect your farm in different ways. Somewhere on the map there's a small town, which periodically expands with different types of districts, some of which can also affect your farm (getting a fairground allows you to enter animals in competitions at the fair, and the airport allows you to buy and use cropdusters). Success in the game consists of managing your farm well (whether crops or animals) in such a way as to turn a profit, which allows you to buy additional land and expand your farm further.

All in all it was a fun experience (at least to my ~10-year-old self), and one that isn't really replicated in any game I'm aware of (please enlighten me if one exists!). To forestall potential criticism, I'm aware that there are games that play on similar themes. Probably the biggest and most famous is Farming Simulator 2015. Unlike SimFarm, however, Farming Simulator 2015 is operated in first-person mode with the player manually controlling various pieces of equipment. SimFarm, in contrast, has the player simply ordering things to be done (such as planting or harvesting a field), and the appropriate equipment springs into action if available (presumably piloted by invisible family or farm hands). Farming Simulator 2015 also uses pre-built maps that can't really be meaningfully changed, while a lot of SimFarm's charm comes from the way you can rearrange the map the way you see fit to build your dream farm.

I mentioned SimCity earlier, because I wanted to mention its 2015 remake Cities: Skylines by developer Colossal Order. The latest SimCity sequel (usually known as SimCity 2013) was widely panned by critics and players alike, and the people at Colossal Order decided to take it upon themselves to create a SimCity-like game from the ground up. The fruit of their efforts was Cities: Skylines, a critically-acclaimed, updated and modernized city-building game making full use of the many advances in the years since the original it was based on came out. I recount this to show what I'd like to see for SimFarm: someone to create a similar-but-modernized game from the ground up for today's audience taking advantage of today's technology. I'm not in a position to make one myself, but hey, maybe Colossal Order is taking suggestions on what to make next…

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Blog Post Plot

Well, here's the graph I promised in my last post. It took so long because I intended to take some features from the graphs I produce at work, but kept forgetting to copy the relevant code for perusal at home. As it turned out I only needed a little bit, and the graph was pretty easy to make once I sat down to do so. Anyway, here it is:

Click for larger version.
It's interesting to see the patterns that emerge. The early high count steadily drops around the middle of 2012, then after a little more variability seems to have settled into a surprisingly consistent alternating series of 2–3–2–3.

I really enjoy making graphs like this, iterating over and over, often dozens or scores of times, to get a graph that's both informative and aesthetically-pleasing (to me, at least). According to my terminal history, I ran the command to generate this graph sixty-two times, though of course a decent number of those time something threw an error and no new version of the graph was produced. And I'm reminded once again just how happy I am to have a job where I get to make interesting and beautiful plots—perhaps I can share some of them in the future.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Happy Sixth Anniversary, Blog!

Today marks six years to the day since I started this blog. Why is this the first such anniversary post on this blog, you ask? Because I thought it was only five years and had decided to write a nice “happy five-year anniversary, me!” post and only discovered it had actually been six years when I sat down to write it. (I suppose it's also a great demonstration of my normal facility for dates in general.)

I had an idea to make a plot showing the number of blog posts per month over the run of this blog, which in fact is what prompted this post in the first place. At the beginning of this blog I was putting out multiple blog posts per week; over time that ratio has flipped to several weeks per post frequently, and I'm curious to see exactly how and when that happened. Part of that is simply circumstances. Back when I started, I was a student, and despite a brutal scholastic schedule I could still find both the time and motivation for post-writing fairly frequently. Two years later and I've graduated, but taken a part-time job at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. Due to the binary nature of that job (days completely off vs. days spent entirely at work) I still had a lot of free days to think up and compose posts. Finally, a year later, at the beginning of 2013, I took my current job with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope. This was (and still is, thankfully!) a full-time job with regular hours, but the downside was that it left me less time in general for post-writing and fewer days where I wasn't already tired from working.

Now, I mentioned a plot in the previous paragraphs, but alas! there are no plots gracing this particular post due to technical difficulties and a missing python-tkinter package that doesn't want to install. I really want to see what it would look like, however, so expect a post showcasing it in the near future. So check back soon, and a hui hou!